9/11: Passing Fancies

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Kathy Frankovic, Director of Surveys for CBS News, takes a pulse of the nation one year after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Americans believe the country has changed in the year following last September's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but change appears lasting only on some things. On many other items CBS News polls suggest that feelings that may have seemed profound on September 12, 2001 have proved highly transient.

After September 11, approval ratings for the President, for Congress and for other representatives of the national government soared. And at least in New York City, so did opinion of the City's Mayor. Americans were said to have rediscovered their ability to trust the national government, and to see the country headed in the right direction again.

Some of the first changes to disappear came on the positive feelings about Congress. By early 2002, Americans seemed happy to display once again their normal critical views about the legislative body. The government as a whole came next -- by early summer most Americans were no longer judging the government simply on its response to terrorism and had reverted to their long term feelings of skepticism about whether or not the government did the right thing most of the time. By then, too, a majority of Americans believed the country was back on track -- but the wrong one -- again.

However, even a year after the attacks generally positive images of President Bush remain above their pre-September 11 levels, though the President's job approval ratings are now nowhere near the historic 90 percent high of last fall. In the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll, 63 percent approve of the way George W. Bush is doing his job -- 13 points more than said that last August.

But on specifics, the rallying around the President that took place last fall has ended. American opinion about the President's handling of the economy and foreign policy in general is back where it was a year ago. Just 47 percent approve of his handling of the economy (down from 71 percent in October) and 54 percent approve his handling of foreign policy (down from a high of 75 percent). There has even been a drop in public approval of the President's handling of the campaign against terrorism -- though support on this remains high at 66percent.

That campaign against terrorism goes on, but the actual war in Afghanistan is remote for most Americans. Just one in four say it affects their daily lives. And there are other reminders in recent polls that for many Americans the war and the attack itself are things they can't experience personally. Most Americans think about the attacks at least once a week, but they hit home for only 7 percent, who say they were close to someone killed or injured in them.

A year after the attacks, Americans are less likely to suffer the psychological manifestations of pain they exhibited in the wake of September 11 Nationally, just 5 percent still have trouble sleeping. A quarter did have that problem in the wake of the attacks. 16 percent feel nervous or edgy, down from 44 percent before. Those symptoms remain more prevalent in New York City, but even there, where more than one in four adults were close to someone who was killed or missing in the attack, sleeplessness now afflicts only 14 percent.

People also feel a little more secure now, though they think more can and should be done to protect the country from terrorism. Nationally, Americans are as likely to feel personally safe from terrorism as they are to be uneasy or scared. In New York City, uneasiness predominates. Many New Yorkers are still queasy about spending time in tall buildings, and say they wouldn't want to work in whatever buildings are constructed at the World Trade center site.

Nationally, one in four are very concerned about a terrorist attack where they live. The percentage expressing concern has decreased in the last year -- though it remains higher in the places where the terrorists struck a year ago, and higher in big cities and the Northeast.

One big change that has lasted the year: the city that suffered the most and still worries the most about another attack has gained the most in public esteem. Nationwide, positive images of New York City have never been higher. And in the city itself, the good feelings about how the city responded to the attacks a year ago remain high. There's a New York City sort of assertiveness, too. New Yorkers feel better about living in their City now than they did ten years ago, and they have more confidence in their neighbors now than they did before. And New Yorkers feel very good about what their neighbors and their city did. Two-thirds of New Yorkers say their city handled the attacks better than any other big city would have.